11 Simple, Proven Ways to Optimize Your Mental Health
Only you truly know the unique triumphs and travails of living in your own head. If you experience ongoing depression, anxiety or other symptoms, Seeking professional help as early as possible, rather than waiting, can be critical. However, you needn’t be diagnosed with a mental health condition to benefit from taking steps to improve your psychological well-being. Here are some ways you can get a mental edge. The payoff could include everything from a happier, healthier, longer life to better relationships.
1. Get moving.
You might not want to sit down for this. Physical exercise is very important in preventing or reducing mental health problems, which include depression. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins – natural opiates that improve our mood and make us feel good. Exercise can also help cognitive functioning – how well we think.
2. Watch your weight.
Being sedentary, by contrast, can prove a double whammy, since we don’t get the mental jolt from exercise – and we’re more likely to pack on pounds. Putting on extra weight, research shows, can weigh down our mental health, too. Obesity and diabetes increase the risk for depression.
3. Be careful what you consume.
Your diet – whether predominantly plant-based with healthy greens, nuts and other lean proteins (good), or laden with saturated fat, processed foods and sugars (not so good) – can impact mood and anxiety levels. So, too, can other things we put in our body to get by in the moment, from tobacco and alcohol to recreational drugs. Better to avoid the feel-good momentary fixes, and spare yourself the crash later.
4. Stay in the moment.
We all sometimes seek to avoid uncomfortable situations, either by physically removing ourselves or checking out mentally. That’s normal … it’s just that when you do that very chronically and habitually, it could develop into significant problems with anxiety and depression. Experts recommend practicing mindfulness instead to help deal with difficult circumstances and emotions. It’s paying attention to the present moment and what your experience is, noting that approaches vary. Bringing awareness, acceptance, self-compassion, curiosity and just noticing non-judgmentally those internal experiences as they’re arising.
5. Meditate about the ones you love.
Want to get even more from that wonderful vacation or visit with family? Focus your mind on it. In researching different forms of meditation, experts has found that so-called kindness meditation or loving-kindness meditation can improve a person’s emotional well-being and reduce symptoms of depression; other researchers have found it eases anxiety. It’s a very simple meditation based on … sending well-wishes to yourself or others, describing it as somewhat similar to mindfulness meditation.
6. Keep a journal.
Just as mindfulness can help a person recognize and cope with difficult thoughts and emotions in the moment, experts say it’s important to have outlets to process complex experiences. Journaling, or expressive writing, allows a person to put negative thoughts, feelings, aspirations and anything else that might be going through their mind to paper – and to get some mental distance from those experiences. It has been [shown to be] very helpful in some of the research that has been done as well for [addressing] anxiety and depression.
7. Stay socially connected.
Social support plays a vital role in helping optimize our overall mental well-being. Expert recommends “surrounding ourselves with supportive people – loving friends and family – and avoiding, if we can, ‘difficult’ people who may bring us down.” By contrast, a lack of social connectivity can put us at risk for health problems that affect body and mind and contribute to premature death. Lack of socialization is … the leading cause of geriatric depression.
8. Prioritize – and schedule – positivity.
Pay bills, do work, spin wheels. Check, check, check. Lunch with a friend? Not on the list. Basically when people make their ‘to-do’ list, they are often thinking of achievement, as opposed to scheduling something in their day that they know is a boost to their positive emotions and their moods. But researchers has fond out that those who prioritize positivity, such as allotting time to visit loved ones or engage in a beloved hobby, tend to be mentally healthier.
9. Assess your stress.
Avoiding high levels of stress and finding ways to cope can make a big difference. Many times, we can actively avoid difficult, stressful situations, When we can’t, framing our experiences positively, and trying not to worry (especially about things you can’t change) can also be beneficial – focusing on the positive, not stewing about the bad things that may occur. Under such circumstances, Mindfulness – relaxation or meditation – can also help.
10. Sleep on it.
Whether you’re wrestling with serious mental anguish or just smelling the roses, it’s important to get ample rest and practice proper sleep hygiene – room-darkening blinds in the bedroom, TV out. Poor sleep wreaks havoc on the brain and circadian rhythms, [and it can] alter brain function and gene expression. In short, whether you’re predisposed to mental health issues or not, skimping on shut-eye can awaken psychological problems that make it even harder to function during the day.
11. Find purpose.
Just as making time to visit with friends can change the complexion of a day, mental health experts say doing something meaningful and finding purpose can ground a person in psychologically beneficial ways. Engaging in activities that give us meaning in our lives can further aid us, in terms of improving mental health. That might include volunteering to help others, engaging in hobbies as well as doing other things we enjoy. Doing things with a sense of purpose or meaning is a proven way to improve mental health.